Highland High School teachers share experience with the Marines

The following is an article submitted by Peggy Guetzko, a Spanish teacher at Highland High School in Riverside.

Guetzko and her colleague, English teacher Amy Stoltenberg, participated in the 2010 Marine Corps Educator Workshop from June 7 to June 11 in San Diego, Calif.

This is their experience, in their own words:

Highland High School teachers Amy Stoltenberg and Peggy Guetzko successfully joined the US Marine Corps for one week of training June 7 through June 11.

The two teachers traveled to San Diego, Calif., to the Marine Recruit Depot for a Teacher Educator Workshop. Eighty teachers, counselors, and principals from Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Nebraska participated in the workshop.

The purpose of the workshop is to develop an understanding of who the Marines are, the career and educational opportunities available to Marines and their families, and to experience some of the training that new recruits complete at boot camp.

Escorting the educators throughout the week were four Marines from the Midwest: Captain Randon Knoll, Executive Officer, Recruiting Station Des Moines Headquarters; Sergeant Joshua Benne, Recruiting Substation West Omaha; Sergeant Christopher Bruns, Recruiting Substation Lincoln; and Sergeant Jesse Ford, Recruiting Substation Cedar Falls.

A fifth Marine from Iowa, Sgt. Bryan A. Peterson, Recruiting Station Des Moines, organized and prepared the Iowa teachers, although he was unable to attend, due to the birth of his son during this time.

On the first day, Stoltenberg and Guetzko were a little nervous. 

“We didn’t know what to expect and how much of the ‘real’ experience we would get,” Stoltenberg said.

The moment the two sat down on the bus, the drill instructors took over.

“There was a lot of yelling and we rode with our chins to our chest the entire drive to the Recruit Station. At that point in time, everyone was wondering what we had gotten ourselves into! And then of course, who would survive an entire week! Would we ever see our Highland students again?” explained Guetzko.

“We lined up on the yellow footprints and learned to move quickly. As we went through processing, I remember still hoping the hair cut was optional for teachers,” she added.

Then the teachers stood at attention and read a small yellow card. The card congratulated them for having completed the first two minutes of boot camp.  There was a huge collective sigh as the drill instructors laughed and then asked for questions.

The teachers experienced some of the training new recruits do. Everyone learned to make a formation and how to march. They learned that having the recruits yell or sing as while running increases lung capacity and endurance. The drill instructors explained the stages of the 12-week boot camp and the rigorous physical and mental demands placed on the new recruits.

The teachers continued with a class on Marine Corps martial arts and the bayonet assault course. There, Stoltenberg and Guetzko put on camouflage brown fatigues, helmet, Kevlar vest and grabbed an 8 pound AK16 with a plastic bayonet. Teachers ran the course in groups of four; crawling, jumping into pits, hitting the target, crossing a rope bridge, crawling more, running quickly, and hitting the final targets.

Career Marines spent time with the teachers as well. They explained the educational benefits that a Marine can receive all the college education wanted for up to ten years past an honorable discharge. What surprised most teachers, was that this benefit includes the spouse and children of the Marine. 

An entire day was spent at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, the site for the movie “Top Gun.” The teachers examined static displays of aircraft, and talked with active-duty Marines. Later, they visited family housing, the base library, hangouts for Marines who live in the barracks, and the living quarters for single Marines. A brass quintet from the Marine Corps Band performed just for the teachers.

“The band teachers in our group were enthralled. The music was incredible,” Guetzko said.

The next day included travel to Camp Pendleton, 45 minutes north of San Diego, the site of the infamous Crucible.

The Crucible was the last test for new recruits. It was a tough 72-hour field training with a total of 48 miles of marching in the wilderness with minimal supplies. When recruits finished the Crucible, they earned their Marine pin of the globe, anchor, and eagle that declared them an official Marine. It was an emotional moment and everyone was very proud of the young Marines.    

On the last day, teachers attended morning colors and had breakfast with the depot’s commanding general, Brigadier General Bailey. General Bailey clearly expressed his pride in the incoming recruits. He stressed that 92 percent of new recruits were high school graduates. The General expressed the importance of not only the physical and mental challenges, but the importance of moral training.

“Doing what is right is not always easy, and our new Marines have to walk a lonely road at times,” he said.

During the graduation ceremonies, the General also emphasized the concept of the Marines as family.

“Not only the new recruits, but you, as their families, have also joined the Marines” he said. “The few, the proud, the Marines. That’s you as well.” 

Stoltenberg and Guetzko will return to their fall classes at Highland High School with a new concept of the diverse opportunities and experiences that Marines can offer recruits.

“We won’t use the same teaching techniques — no one can yell that much except a drill instructor!” Guetzko said. “But we teach many of the same concepts; education is important, responsibility, pride in your work and more.”

“We plan to share this information with our colleagues and with our Highland students,” Stoltenberg added. “It was a very awesome experience.”